Thousands of Germans took part in counter-demonstrations in several cities on Monday to combat what they see as the growing tide of anti-Muslim racism in Europe, particularly as weekly "pinstriped Nazi" marches continue to attract supporters.
Rallies promoting peace and tolerance were held in Dresden—where the weekly far-right protests, organized by a group that calls itself the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida), have been taking place since October—as well as in Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart, Muenster, and Hamburg.
As EuroNews reports:
Many businesses and organizations showed their solidarity with the anti-Pegida rallies by turning the lights off in their facilities. Among them was the Cologne Cathedral, which received cheers of support when it plunged into darkness Monday night, towering over the marches below.
Cologne Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff told N-TV that the move was meant to send the message to Pegida's anti-Muslim protesters that "You’re taking part in an action that, from its roots and also from speeches, one can see is Nazi-ist, racist and extremist. And you’re supporting people you really don’t want to support."
"We don't think of it as a protest, but we would like to make the many conservative Christians [who support Pegida] think about what they are doing," Feldhoff told BBC.
"Today, there is really a democratic sign being sent and a lot of people in Cologne are expressing their opinion," said Cologne mayor Juergen Roters. "They want to stress that we here in Cologne do not want to have anything to do with right-wing extremists and xenophobic people."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also criticized the anti-Muslim movement in her New Year's address, saying Pegida leaders have "prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts."
The Cologne power company, the Volkswagen factory in Dresden, and other churches and museums in the various protest cities also kept their lights off in support of the anti-Pegida marches. Volkswagen said it joined in the move to make clear the company "stands for an open, free and democratic society."
Police said peace activists were outnumbered in Dresden, where 18,000 Pegida marchers showed up—but numbers were better in other cities, as 22,000 people converged to protest Pegida in Stuttgart, Muenster, and Hamburg, according to the DPA news agency. Similarly, BBC reported that roughly 5,000 counter-demonstrators blocked about 300 Pegida supporters from marching along their planned route in Berlin.
Although Pegida organizers say they are not a neo-Nazi organization and have banned Nazi symbols and slogans at their rallies, the far-right party—which claims it is simply protesting "radicalism, regardless of whether religiously or politically motivated"—has nonetheless received outspoken support from neo-Nazi groups.
The Guardian continued:
Cem Ozdemir, co-chairman of the Greens party and himself the son of a Turkish immigrant, told n-tv that while he, too, was against any form of extremism, “intolerance cannot be fought with intolerance”.
“The line is not between Christians and Muslims,” he said. “The line is between those who are intolerant … and the others, the majority.”